CHICAGO, October 30, 2006 ( – Some Midwestern members of Amnesty International USA are concerned about the position AIUSA took last April favoring the “decriminalization” of abortion. However, Amnesty’s Midwest Regional Conference in Chicago, which ended on Sunday, refused to reconsider or even to discuss that position—or the draft policies implementing it.

At the international level, Amnesty has drafted but not yet adopted a position endorsing and implementing decriminalization. However, according to conference participant Richard Stith, “If events in Chicago are typical, AI adoption of decriminalization as a world-wide goal seems almost inevitable because many objections to such a position among its non-member supporters, its members and even its leaders are not reaching the Amnesty higher-ups who will make the final decision.”

Stith is a law professor from Indiana who is a member both of AI and of Consistent Life, a group he described as “opposing all violence, including war, the death penalty and abortion.” The group had a large display of its “non-violence” literature opposite the AI registration table during most of the conference.

Former AIUSA Board member Angie Hougas and official sponsor Carolyn Coglianese were among the personally pro-choice conference registrants who supported a resolution asking that Amnesty International remain neutral on “universal legalization of abortion as an inviolable human right.” Their resolution expressed concern that there could be “possible losses of membership” and that “our death penalty abolition efforts could suffer, as some of our most crucial allies oppose executions as part of a comprehensive position in support of the right to life.”

In the earlier West Regional Conference, the same resolution had lost by only one vote, with allegations of voting irregularities. In Chicago the neutrality resolution was voted down by a small “working group” immediately after it was introduced Saturday afternoon, without substantive debate, and without time for voters to read it through first. Many conference attendees did not know that the resolution would be proposed or that they could vote on it by attending the working group meeting.

Amnesty’s International Executive Committee has drafted a policy statement on abortion for possible adoption in 2007 and has asked for feedback. The dense, 14-page “Explanatory Notes” accompanying the IEC draft policy explain its implications. For example, the policy goal of decriminalization includes both sex-selection abortions and abortions for “potential disability status of the fetus.”

Nevertheless, the questionnaire accompanying the policy does not ask members whether they agree with the decriminalization of such abortions: Those surveyed are asked only whether they prefer “decriminalization in all cases” or only “decriminalization except for gestational limits.” Meeting with AIUSA national executives Saturday morning, regional Amnesty leaders expressed chagrin that they had not previously been informed of the existence of the survey, though its deadline is December 1.

A two-hour “Policy Discussion” of “Sexual and Reproductive Rights” was scheduled for late Saturday, but its accompanying description explained that “participants will not be debating the potential policy/policies,” but rather “will focus on AI’s discussion process to date and next steps.” Dori Dinsmore, head of the Midwest Regional Office, directed the “policy discussion.” She did not distribute or explain in any detail the draft policies in question, but referred listeners to the members-only website where the policies and the survey could be accessed. The meeting ended after an hour because participants had no more questions about the process.